The image of Yeldon in the end zone — with LSU defenders strewn about in a quiet, deflated Tiger stadium — is ultimately the lasting one of a fantastic all-around football game. Whether it’s also one of the lasting images of the season might depend on Alabama finishing the year with yet another BCS title. That will be settled in the coming weeks, starting this Saturday as Alabama faces a pesky Texas A&M team. For now, though, it's all about AJ to T.J.
"Just got to make the plays that have to be made," Square said. "Have to be a sure tackle. Can’t let a 2-yard gain turn into a 35-yard gain. You know, you've got to get a guy on the ground, you've got to try and get as many three-and-outs as possible and the offense has got to get on the field and control the tempo of the game. You do that, and I’m pretty sure that’s the game plan this week, and that’s what we’re trying to do."
"I think everybody misinterpreted what I said about no-huddle," he said. "I don't mind playing against no-huddle. We don't mind that at all. That wasn't what I said, it's what you all interpreted it to be. "I just asked the question, 'Is this what we want the game to become?' That's for you to answer. But that doesn't mean we don't like playing against it. We don't mind playing against it. It is what it is. Our players don't mind playing against it. We played a little bit better against it than when the other team huddled up this past week. That's the worst we've played all year on defense, by far." Saban's frustration grew as he wrapped up his answer. "How do you explain that?" he asked the reporter. "Can I ask you a question. How would you explain that? Such an insightful question that you asked me. I'm trying to get some insight in what I'm asking you. How do you explain that?"
Alabama, having won two of the last three national championships, may dispute that claim. Its Heisman contender, quarterback A J McCarron, embodies his team’s ideals — with a steady, calming presence — the way Barner does Oregon’s. Each year, the Crimson Tide’s defense, like the Ducks’ offense, reloads and relies on its coach’s expertise. Every Tuesday and Wednesday, Saban pits the first-team offense against the first-team defense, challenging the defenders to stop the run. In film sessions, the defensive coordinator Kirby Smart plays a highlight tape showing that day’s turnovers and sacks. It is a source of pride, the way Saban wants them to play, physical and relentless. "I want to set the standard and the tempo," said Damion Square, a fifth-year senior defensive end. To set the tone, Square said, "hit them in the mouth — that’s it." "You can instill fear in any athlete hitting them in the mouth," he added.
"We could not get off the field on third down in the second half, especially," Saban said. "I think they hit seven in a row in two scoring drives, and we didn't do as good a job on third down offensively ourselves, which was really a big part of the game. Even though they moved the ball, we still created lots of third-down situations. And we could have gotten out of both drives if we could have gotten off the field on third downs. "That's something that we need to address and certainly do a better job of. We didn't cover them in man-to-man. We didn't break to the ball well enough in zone. Just fundamentally didn't play what we needed to play to be able to have success."
My eyes were closed," he said. He couldn't watch? "Not really," Hubbard said. "I was just praying, 'C'mon, please come through.'" But he could hear. Hubbard opened his eyes when "all I heard was yelling." "I looked up, and there was T.J. running down the sideline for a touchdown," Hubbard said of T.J. Yeldon's 28-yard score on a screen pass with 51 seconds left. The Crimson Tide held on to win 21-17. But the game wasn't over yet, Hubbard said. "All I saw was AJ," Hubbard said of Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron. "He caught the Holy Ghost sliding on the ground, and I kind of dragged him, telling him, ‘Get up, we’ve got 50 seconds still left in this game. We have to win.’"
Regrouping from an equally hard-fought game against LSU last season resulted in one of Alabama’s more sluggish wins of the 2011 season, a 24-7 victory at Mississippi State that saw Alabama hold no more than a 10-point advantage throughout most of the game. That performance, of course, came after a loss, a time when the Crimson Tide’s hopes of making the national title game appeared foggy at best. Now, the Crimson Tide’s destiny lies squarely in its own hands. One win over its final two SEC games puts Alabama in the SEC Championship game against Georgia (if it beats Auburn on Saturday) or Florida. Four more will send Alabama to Miami for the BCS national championship game. "Regardless of the outcome, I think players need to understand the importance of paying attention to detail and doing the little things right so that we can get those things fixed," Saban said. "We've got to forget about this last game. We've got to move on."
"People don't realize, unless you are in the middle of it, the pressure. And having lost to them in the regular season last year, he really carried a lot of the weight of that on his shoulders. He felt like he let his teammates down some. So he didn't want to do that this year."
"Something just hits me that tells me I have to do something," he said. "As a leader on this team, I have to make plays for this team. I know AJ’s going to come to me. I have to make plays. ... "I don’t like to lose. I’m pretty sure nobody likes to lose, but for me, losing is not easy to have on your chest. I just don’t like to lose."
Alabama running back Eddie Lacy is nursing a sore ankle and is not participating in practice, but he is in uniform and is going through some motions with his unit. "Just a little banged up," Saban said in his press conference. "Tweaked it a little in the game." Lacy is expected to practice Tuesday and should be ready to play Saturday.
Defensive end Damion Square was asked if Alabama needed such a test after trailing for all of 15 seconds in the first eight games. "I don't think you ever need a game like that, but you know they come," Square said. "I've been playing college football for a while and every year we have one like that. You never know when it's going to show up, but coach always says to practice your best so when your best is needed, you can bring it out. And our best was needed and we brought it out."
"It was a crazy experience last week," offensive lineman Cyrus Kouandjio said. "Now it’s time to move on. I had my 24 hours to reflect on the game. Now all I’m worried about is the Texas A&M team and its defensive front, which is pretty impressive." Linebacker C.J. Mosley echoed his coach’s words. "It’s time. It’s time to get ready for Texas A&M," he said. "So that game is done and over with. What happened, happened. We’ve just got to get ready for this game."
"It obviously was a good drive in the two-minute," Alabama coach Nick Saban said. "We’ve never really had to use the two-minute." Even so, the Tide practices it regularly each Thursday inside its indoor practice facility. The players say it’s ready when needed, such as the last game against LSU or maybe Saturday’s home game against No. 15 Texas A&M. Recorded crowd noise fills the facility, and the first-team offense has to go against the Tide’s first-team defense. They have only one limit — they aren’t allowed to go full-contact and knock each other all around the building. "Coach Saban basically tells us how many minutes we have left on the clock, how many timeouts we have left, if we need to get a field goal or touchdown," said Alabama receiver Kevin Norwood, who made all five of his receptions Saturday in the hurry-up offense. "We just move the ball as an offense." So, who wins the most: the offense or defense? "It’s kind of 50-50," Norwood said. "The defense wins most of the times, and then we win most of the times. So it’s kind of 50-50."
The star of Texas A&M's show has been redshirt freshman quarterback Johnny Manziel, who completed 30 of 36 passes for 311 yards against the Bulldogs and rushed 21 times for 129 yards. Manziel threw for 290 yards and rushed for 90 at Auburn despite playing one series into the third quarter. "There have been a number of plays he's made over the course of the year, and some of them were improvised and some of them were called," Sumlin said. "Obviously he has the green light a lot of times to take off, and what you're seeing is our team really, really adjusting to him with some of the downfield blocking that is occurring when he gets loose and with guys working to get open. "We're all playing with a lot of confidence now, and in order to be successful on the road and start the way we've started the last couple of weeks, that confidence level has got to be high."
It went barely noticed on Saturday night, but Saban said punter Cody Mandell did what the offense could not – flip field position on the Tigers. Mandell averaged 45.1 yards on seven punts. He put two inside the 20 and LSU had just 16 yards total on three punt returns. A 56-yard punt rolled out of the bounds at the LSU 9 and a 55-yarder in the fourth quarter was fair caught at the LSU 18. "It was probably as good a game, consistency-wise, that he’s had," Saban said of his punter. "It was really, really important because he did change field positions on several occasions. That’s what he’s capable of doing. He’s gotten more and more consistent. "Certainly it couldn’t have happened at a better time for us in terms of him having an outstanding game."
Facing a regular fullback for the first time this season, the University of Alabama defense picked one of the nation's best for an introduction Saturday in the form of LSU's J.C. Copeland. At 275 pounds, Copeland is a menacing lead blocker for the Tigers' rushing attack, and even got involved in the offense with the ball in his hand. Copeland had three carries and two pass receptions, including a 42-yard catch. "He's a very, very good blocker. He's very aggressive. He's very physical. He's a 275-pound, fireplug kind of guy that's hard to get leverage on," said UA coach Nick Saban. "Obviously on the one pass he caught in the flat, we couldn't get him tackled. Two guys missed a tackle and he ran about 50 yards, which was a really big part of the game. I think the guy's probably about as good a blocker at his position as anybody in college football."
Fourth-year head coach Anthony Grant spoke to the media on Monday about the exhibition contest, as well as this weekend’s season-opening games against the Jackrabbits and West Alabama (Sunday at 4 p.m.), which are part of the 2K Sports Classic benefitting the Wounded Warrior Project. "It would be an understatement to say that we are excited about this upcoming week with the season starting," Grant said. "We’ll have an exhibition game here on Tuesday and will get a chance to play outside competition. I think our guys have been going at it pretty good here for the last two or three weeks since practice started. I think it’s great for us to have a chance to play outside competition."